Thursday, September 13, 2012

Teaching in Broken Vietnamese is a Funny Experience

It was my first week teaching students at the Xuân Phú shelter about compost and waste management when I realized the reaction on my students’ faces portrayed a deep confusion. I had tried to make the material we were covering as accessible as possible but language was a difficult barrier to overcome.

Fortunately, within the next few lectures I picked up a technique: ask the students to find the word for me. Chi Dung, my boss, defuses the situation through questions. “Các em, cái nài là cái gì?” Or “Hôm nay các em làm gì?”  (“Younger siblings, what is this?” or “Today, what did you do younger siblings?”)

Asking questions is great for another reason: it gives the students a chance to participate. There is one boy in the class who always has the answers.

“What in manure can be harmful to human beings?” I asked on one occasion.

While most of the class maintained an air of silence, he replied most sensibly, “The smell.”

I almost fell over with laughter.

Mistakes have the property of providing comedic relief if we let them. This one student was unafraid to try. So, the next time I am in discomfort over finding the right words, I’m going to channel his charisma and try my best to get a laugh out of the experience.

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